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Big Sky Sports and Party: Our Favorite Winter Festivals in Montana

Montana Outdoor Insider Guides Montana: Simply Epic
by Jon Wick Jan 5, 2010
No matter what your style, from snowmobile to skis, horse riding to dog sledding, winter events around the state are sure to get you out and discovering the best of what Montana has to offer.

This article has been created in partnership between Matador and our friends at the State of Montana.

Montana PRCA Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals
Great Falls, MT

Rodeo in winter? Yup. At the Four Seasons Arena on the State Fair Grounds, nearly one hundred of the state’s best cowboys will show you what ‘real’ rodeo is all about while competing for piles of cash. The action takes place on Saturday and Sunday, building suspense as many winners aren’t decided until the final rounds.

An auction and a kiddy rodeo also happen during the weekend. With any luck, you could ask the winner of the Miss Rodeo Montana Pageant to the evening dance, too.

When: January 15 – 17, 2010

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Can’t Make It? Try: Northern Rodeo Association Finals – Feb. 18, Billings

Big Money Ice Fishing Derby
Havre, MT

Havre, on Montana’s Hi-Line in the North Central plains, holds this two day ice fishing derby. There are many substantial cash prizes, including hourly prizes, day prizes, and a few specially ‘tagged’ fish that come with a $5,000 reward. The event sponsors improvement of the local fishery and a scholarship fund.

Entry fees are $75 per contestant, or $100 if you want to fish with two poles. A Montana fishing license is required and children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult.

When: January 30 – 31 (8:00-2:00 daily)

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Can’t Make It? Try: Stan Shafer Memorial Ice Fishing Derby – Jan. 23, Dillion

Whitefish Winter Carnival
Whitefish, MT

Whitefish comes to life the long weekend of February 5 – 9th, this year. A Friday evening ball, followed by Saturday’s polar plunge at the city beach, hockey tournament, ice sculptures, snowboard rail jam, and skijoring competition are capped off with the grand parade through town; best watched on Central Avenue.

Later on, up at Whitefish Mountain Resort, you can catch the torchlight parade by the members of the Whitefish Mountain Ski Instructors followed by a stellar fireworks display. I recommend getting a mug of hot chocolate and schnapps while you’re there.

When: February 5 – 7, 2010

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Can’t Make It? Try: Seeley Lake Area Winterfest – Jan. 22, Seeley

Race to the Sky Sled Dog Race
Lincoln, MT

This Iditarod qualifying, 350 mile sled dog race through Montana’s high country draws around thirty-five of the sport’s top teams from all over the world. Events begin on Friday, with a vet check in downtown Lincoln, then an auction and a restart that evening.

Saturday, watch the race take off at Camp Rimini, near Helena, and head to Deer Lodge for the stage finish and festivities going on all afternoon. Sunday is the start of the 300 mile portion of the race, starting in Lincoln and heading to Seeley Lake, before returning to the finish line arch in Lincoln sometime Tuesday. The awards banquet concludes the race Wednesday evening.

When: February 12 – 16, 2010

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Can’t make it? Try: Flathead Sled Dog Days- Jan. 8, Whitefish

Snowbowl Cup Gelande Championship
Missoula, MT

This unique event sees about thirty skiers from all over the U.S. hurtle themselves off a narrow chute between two cliffs at Snowbowl Ski Area. Anticipation of the Gelande grows every year. Different from the ski jumping you see on the Olympics, jumpers use regular alpine skis with fixed heels to fling themselves distances up to two hundred feet for the $8,000 cash prize.

The best way to take in the action is from the deck of the lodge, or from a lawn chair on the snow. Either way, order a pizza and a bloody mary from the bar – they’re possibly the best you’ll ever get from a ski lodge.

When: February 27-28, 2010

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Can’t Make It? Try: Pinhead Classic Telemark Ski Festival – Mar. 14, Bozeman

World Snowmobile Expo
West Yellowstone, MT

This weekend, dubbed the “Largest Snowmobile Event in the West” is nothing short of adventure packed. The Sno West ‘Best of the Best’ Snowcross race is the main attraction, while head to head snow drags, ATV races, radar runs, an endurance race, and aerial trickery round out the excitement.

For the less adventurous, but snowmobile loving rest of us, there are the ‘sneak peak’ and vintage snow mobile exhibits, as well as an evening concert. Bring your own machine and even with Yellowstone Park closed, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the hundreds of miles of trails and open terrain of the nearby Gallatin and Targhee National Forests.

When: March 12 – 15, 2010

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Can’t Make It? Try: Moonlight Snowmobile Poker Run – Jan. 30, Lincoln

National Finals Ski Joring Races
Red Lodge, MT

Originating in Scandinavia as a mode of winter transportation, this raucous festival in Red Lodge has evolved since then. Horses navigate a seven-hundred-foot-long course while pulling a skier. To make things more fun, the skiers must go through a twenty gate slalom course and over four jumps in hopes of becoming the fastest racer and collecting the $20,000 in cash and prizes.

The spectators and tailgaters are just as much a part of the fun with their homemade shanties built just for the weekend on the backs of their trucks. There are also separate women, junior, and pee-wee divisions, as well as a longest jump contest for anyone with the cojones to try.

When: March 13 – 15, 2010

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Can’t Make It? Try: Annual Snow Rodeo– Mar. 20, Essex

Nate Chute Hawaiian Classic
Whitefish, MT

Held in memory of prolific Whitefish snowboarder Nate Chute, the idea behind this event is to make time for friends and family to gather, remember, and ride together. Since its inception, the Classic has turned into one of the largest competitions of its kind.

Saturday’s race is the regionally recognized banked slalom, with cash prizes and a seeding for Sunday’s boarder cross race – Montana’s largest with over one hundred competitors. Two to five racers at a time barrel down an obstacle course. The winners compete for a $2,000 to $3,000 cash purse and, true to its roots, all proceeds go to the Nat Chute Memorial Fund that helps local teens and adolescents in times of need.

When: March 13 – 14, 2010

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Can’t Make It? Try: Seeley Lake Challenge Biathlon – Jan. 23, Seeley

Montana Snowkite Rodeo
Jackson, MT

The Northwest’s biggest and best snowkite competition draws professionals from all over the world to the Big Hole Valley all week. With an abundance of high wind, and high elevation lakes, Montana is a premier destination within the snowkite community.

Those not familiar with the sport: Grab your skis or snowboard, the best helmet you can find, a kite the size of Massachusetts, and unleash your skills on the frozen snow and ice as the kite pulls you around. Festivities, demos, lodging, and concerts are held at Jackson Hot Springs Lodge.

When: March 29 – April 4, 2010

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Can’t Make It? Try: Georgetown Lake Open – Jan.9th, Philipsburg

Closing Weekend
Any Ski Hill, MT

The snow in Montana is no secret, and many people flock here to experience it throughout the winter. What deserves more credit than it receives is the quality of spring snow, the warmer weather and atmosphere, and the spring riding that goes along with it. At nearly all of the resorts and ski hills, the final weekend of the calendar is focused on fun just as much as the riding.

At the Whitefish Mountain Resort Pond Skim and the Big Sky Spring Run Off, people dress up and try their luck at skiing and boarding downhill and across a man-made pond.

At smaller mountains the festive atmosphere continues with wacky outfits and costumes at Snowbowl, and the scent of grilling elk steaks atop Discovery Basin. Hit one and follow the party where it takes you. Music, food and drink deals, special events, great weather, great conditions, and great people – wherever you find yourself at the end of the season, you’ll be sure to have an excellent send off.

When: Early to mid April

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Can’t Make It? Try: Keep an eye on ski hill schedules, if you play your cards right, you can make two or three closing weekends in a row.

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